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City releases report sought by GBI
Inquiry concerns 2013 water and sewer account
GBI plaque

Statesboro City Council, by a 3-0 vote after one member left and with another abstaining, agreed Tuesday to release a June 2013 internal inquiry report requested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

A motion to release the document had also been made at the previous meeting June 16, but failed despite having two votes in favor and one opposed. Although three members make a quorum of the five-member council, the City Charter requires at least three votes to pass a motion.

Councilman Travis Chance was absent from the June 16 evening meeting, which lasted until after 9 p.m. Councilman John Riggs had left before the close-door session that preceded the open vote on releasing the report.

 

Riggs explains revote

After making the motion for Tuesday’s revote, Councilman John Riggs explained that he had left the previous meeting to attend the funeral visitation of a friend. A constituent called Riggs after the Statesboro Herald reported that he left before the vote.

“One of my constituents called me and personally asked me if I would bring this back up and put it back on the agenda and then be here so I can vote on it,” Riggs said. “So I called the mayor and asked her if she would put it back on the agenda so that we can vote on it, and here we are.”

The June 22, 2013, report is from a city inquiry that then-Mayor Joe Brannen asked City Attorney Alvin Leaphart conduct into issues surrounding a water and sewer account held by South Georgia Realty LLC.

As before, Tuesday’s resolution asserts that, as an attorney’s work product, the full report with its conclusions would be exempt from release under the Georgia Open Records Act and even if a subpoena were issued. But it then waives this exemption specific to this report only.

Chance seconded the motion.

The resolution to release the document was again at the end of the agenda. When Tuesday’s meeting lasted from 9 a.m. till nearly noon, Councilman Phil Boyum left during the closed-door session that preceded the resolution vote.

“I voted for the release of the document last time,” Boyum said, offering a statement to the newspaper. “I’m sorry that work took me away from the vote. However, I still support releasing the document.”

With Boyum gone, the council had four members left. Councilman Gary Lewis at first expressed doubt about voting a second time on the same resolution, but joined in the “yes” vote after Mayor Jan Moore noted that Lewis had voted for it before.

So Riggs, Chance and Lewis voted for release of the document. Britt abstained.

After the previous meeting, he had said he voted against the document’s release not because of the contents of the report but to uphold the principle of attorney-client privilege.

What it’s about

Two years ago, at Brannen’s direction, Leaphart investigated the city’s handling of water billing to South Georgia Realty LLC, then owned in part by Sterling Starling, a city employee and son of City Clerk Sue Starling. South Georgia Realty had accrued more than $6,000 in unpaid utility bills over the course of several months without having its water cut off or being assessed a cutoff fee, although it was charged late fees.

In a story Aug. 12, 2013, the Statesboro Herald reported that Leaphart said he did not believe that the city connections played any part in South Georgia Realty being afforded payment flexibility.

In a report then provided, according to the 2013 story, Leaphart noted that at least two other similar businesses, Varsity Apartments and Eagles Landing Apartments, were provided leniency with their bills.

This May, Special Agent in Charge Cathy Sapp, who heads the GBI’s Statesboro office, confirmed that the bureau had begun an inquiry into possible “improprieties or mismanagement of funds” at City Hall.

An ordinance the council enacted May 19 requires extra levels of approval for city employees and elected officials to obtain water bill adjustments, such as those for leaks, that are available to customers generally.

Now that the city has waived its exemption claim, the newspaper has requested a copy of the report to confirm that the version requested by the GBI matches the conclusions stated in 2013.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

 

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